The beginning of Fortnite’s latest season saw 40 non-playable characters scattered around the map for players to find. Every NPC can give players quests and items, and some can even join your team and help you fight. This is a big change for the battle royale–it’s something Epic Games has been working towards for some time.
Computer-controlled characters–including bot players, Marvel heroes, recruitable henchmen, and more–have continuously been added to the game over the past couple of years. Epic has used these characters to help diversify the experience players have from match to match. The studio is leaning heavily into using these characters, but players want more from them.
Epic Games has inserted some sort of computer-controlled character into many of Fortnite’s seasons, especially after the launch of Chapter 2. They’ve roamed the map randomly looking for players to kill as the Marauders, acted as security for Midas and crew in Season 2, and most recently supported Dr. Doom and Iron Man (who are also AI-controlled) at their respective named locations during Season 4. Sometimes they just hang around for no reason.
These AI-controlled characters have thrown a wrench into the standard battle royale action that the genre is known for. They sometimes appear when two other players are in the middle of a fight, giving the advantage to whoever is farther away from them. Season 5’s IO Guards, who are located in boxes underground at several designated locations, are a great way to set a trap in the final few circles. Leading other players to the IO Guards’ location for an ambush is a good way to win a victory royale.
Setting traps is all that most bots are good for, though. They’re nearly useless in every other regard, whether you’re fighting with or against them. They rarely aim in the right direction and often choose to harvest materials instead of fight. They exhibit the same behavior that bot players–who were added to the game at the beginning of Chapter 2 to help players with lower skill levels improve–do.
The main mechanic that Season 5’s NPCs have introduced to the game is quests–challenges that are available in every game (not weekly or daily challenges that go away). It’s similar to Call of Duty: Warzone’s contract system that gives players various tasks and rewards that help them throughout a match. Warzone brought innovation to the genre with contracts, giving players who don’t want to continuously fight others for the entirety of a game something else to do.
Fortnite’s NPC system builds on that, creating RPG-like scenarios where players pick up quests from NPCs before fighting them for their supplies. Fortnite’s bots often fall short of expectations, though. All of Fortnite’s bots, including Season 5’s and the ones that came before, are hopeless. Fortnite players want the bots play styles to be as diverse as their own.
There’s a reason bots haven’t been added to other battle royales like Call of Duty: Warzone–it’s tough to balance them so they’re not too challenging for new players but not completely pointless. Fortnite’s new NPCs are a step in the right direction, but there’s still a ways to go.